It’s nice to see mainstream white America coming to grips, however slowly, with the importance of acknowledging past wrongs and scraping away some of the historical whitewash used to alleviate (or maybe avoid) the white guilt associated with them.
The latest example of this newfound enlightenment is the rush of US companies jumping on the Juneteenth bandwagon. Twitter, BuzzFeed, Lyft and even Mastercard and Nike have recently announced their observance of the holiday. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad more companies are introducing this important date to their employees, even if it’s for the wrong reasons.
By that I mean most of them are either attempting to avoid being labeled as out of touch (even though they have been), or worse, they’re trying to capitalize on the momentary attention the gesture provides them in order to sell more products or services. I’ve yet to see anyone state anything close to the truth, which is these companies and their executives—not unlike most of white America—have been either dismissive or willfully ignorant of what Juneteenth means, especially relative to the Fourth of July.
But whatever. Welcome aboard. UPD Consulting has been celebrating Juneteenth as a paid holiday since 2015. As a black-owned company that supports public sector agencies in their social missions, it has always been important for our consultants to know and understand the history that shapes the problems our clients are supposed to be solving. It’s not just another day off for us.
For those of you still practicing willful ignorance, Juneteenth (or June 19th) is the date in 1865 when word was purposefully spread by the Union army to the people of Texas that President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation freeing the slaves in the rebel states. That was two and a half years after the declaration was made.
My hope is that the wider recognition and appreciation of Juneteenth by these mainstream companies includes dialogue and contemplation about what it means for black people to be free in America, what it has meant to have that freedom denied and delayed, and what it will take for us to truly have it. And I hope some of that discussion is still happening amidst the fireworks and hot dogs and beer drinking on July 4th, the only Independence Day the US government currently recognizes.